Thinkpad Decline

There is an interesting piece by Cyrus Sanati on the Lenovo (previously IBM) Thinkpad.

In my opinion, Lenovo already damaged the Thinkpad reputation. It’s build quality dropped almost immediately. The T43 wasn’t nearly as well built as the extremely T42. The T42 was a work of art with properly fitting everything. My T43 had been reliable, it still works, however it was never of the same quality as the T42 or A31. The plastic never perfectly aligned, slight gap between the optical media bay, the optical media drive tray flexes way more than it should. The T50 series was even worse and flexed despite “improvements”. Small things, but they matter.

The reason why Thinkpads still have a reputation is because they have no real competition. Apple has top notch build quality, but it’s not a PC. Sony is the nearest competitor, and it’s not really in the enterprise space, and isn’t quite up to par with the Thinkpad still. The Thinkpad wins just by beating it’s notably poor competition.

If someone figures out how to reproduce Apple’s build quality, Lenovo is in deep trouble. Until then, they will continue to do just fine. If Lenovo wants to protect itself, they should start competing with Apple in terms of quality, not aesthetics or consumer features.

Lenovo Gets Rid Of The Classic Keyboard

It’s no secret that I’m a keyboard snob. After all how many others have written several blog posts about keyboards. I’m rather disappointed to see Lenovo getting rid of the classic keyboard. Lenovo (previously IBM) ThinkPad had the best keyboards of the PC laptops. There was no competition.

Apple managed to achieve a decent “chicket style” keyboard, the spacing is pretty good. The low action makes it very responsive. So I’m not totally opposed to the style. I’m typing on one now.

Looking at the photo, I can’t imagine this new keyboard Lenovo is using will be any good. The function keys look quite narrow and the arrows look like they have the prev/next against them. Those buttons are essentially useless and just ruin the feel of that part of the keyboard. My T43 has them, but at least that was a classic keyboard which was very tactile. I’d imagine the new keyboard also changes the usability of the Trackpoint. I’m just going to assume the spacing and action is solid.

I guess this is the downside to making laptops thinner and lighter.

Making Products Easy To Repair

Lately consumer protection and financial laws seem to be a favorite of politicians who want to help the American people “keep their hard earned money”, er whatever slogan it is they go with these days. For a long time I’ve been of the feeling that they are overlooking the obvious. Making things easier to fix, hence longer lasting. Sames money, and helps the environment. How’s that for killer legislation?

Most household items are surprisingly simple to repair. Thanks to automation at the factory, everything has been pretty much broken down to LEGOs in complexity. Simple modules that are interconnected to form products. This technique also allows them to use the parts in multiple models hence lower cost of production. But every so often one part breaks rendering the product to be a giant paperweight. From home appliances to your computer, it really doesn’t matter what the product does.

What’s really needed is easier access to parts. Every manufacturer’s policies vary, but in many cases it’s extremely difficult to find parts. When you do your often paying hundreds of times what that tiny piece of plastic is really worth. Of course it’s still sometimes cheaper than replacing the product, but not by a huge margin.

This should really be law:

  • Standard Screws – Products should be assembled using standard screws. No more proprietary heads. In situations where a screwless design is used (iPod for example) explanation of how to open should be available.
  • Parts breakdown – Every product should either include on paper, or upon request from manufacturer a list of all parts in the product with part number.
  • Easy Access To Parts – Replacement parts should be available at cost + 10-15% + shipping & handling. Keep them affordable and easy to order. It should be either through the manufacturer directly or via an authorized agent, via phone or online. Parts should be available for a minimum 3 years after the last warranty expires for home electronics. Home appliances should be longer, I’d say 10 years. If the manufacturer provides repairs themselves or service parts to authorized technicians the parts should be available for as long as they are to service centers, whatever is longer.
  • Warranty Disclaimer – Should state what are “user serviceable parts” and can be replaced within warranty, and that anything else will void the warranty (it’s your problem not theirs).
  • Hazards Warning – Should warn of any obvious and non-obvious hazards within the device, such as capacitors that can contain high voltage even when unplugged (yes, newbie, it common, and I’m sure it hurts if you make that mistake), chemicals, or sharp objects. Ideally devices would color code such hazardous parts, and perhaps things that need to be disposed of specially such as batteries.

By making things easier to repair, this would ensure that people can conserve money by not replacing products because of one small problem. This would also be a major environmental win because people can conserve and avoid filling landfills with mostly working products. This is especially true for electronics.

LCD AssemblySo far the only one who seems to come close to meeting my guidelines is IBM/Lenovo. They make it very easy to order replacement parts (though it’s hard to find the page). They also have excellent diagrams of the whole product exploded so you know exactly how it goes together. This makes owning a IBM/Lenovo product a lot cheaper since you can just order the replacement part as needed. If your under warranty they seem to have no problem shipping replacement parts if your comfortable installing and don’t want to ship your laptop out for repairs (which sucks, trust me).

A close second is LG. I’ve ordered replacement cell phone parts a few times. No diagrams or assistance from them, but their parts # is very helpful in identifying the actual part every single time. Just give the model number and explain the part. Required overnight shipping which added significantly to the cost, but overall not a bad deal.

NordicTrack isn’t bad either. I was able to order a replacement controller and turn a seemingly dead-as-a-doornail treadmill into a perfectly working treadmill in a matter of minutes. Nice diagrams on paper, and online ordering process was pretty painless. That simple replacement saved significant cash and kept a heavy treadmill out of a landfill. Price of parts weren’t too bad either.

For those who suggest eBay, that’s really a last resort. Your essentially buying salvaged parts of unknown quality or origin. If you treat your stuff well, why put in some part that’s likely been tortured by a previous owner to the point where the product was sent to salvage? Low cost replacement parts are the way to go. Also prevents bogus counterfeits, buying damaged goods.

That would go a long way to helping people save some cash, give companies a new revenue model (10-15% above cost is a pretty nice margin), and help the environment all in one sweep. Some companies are already much closer to fully complying with this list than others. That just proves to me that this is a reasonable proposal. It’s insane to replace something because of one small piece.

Image From Lenovo

April Fools 2008

As usual, my list of April Fools that I saw today:

Google Badware Notification

Google has started providing notification before it lets you visit a search result known to contain badware. It’s done in partnership with StopBadware.org, who has a list of sponsors including: Google, Lenovo, and Sun Microsystems.

So far the feature seems pretty good. I’m sure there will be a few C&D‘s trying to get this feature taken down, now that some companies have found their revenue model shattered. To help prevent accidental blacklisting they have been trying to contact websites that are blacklisted so they can try and fix it (should they want to). Hopefully that will eliminate/minimize any errors.

I’d venture most people stumble upon these sites one of a few ways:

  1. Spam, or it’s instant messaging counterpart Spim. Linking to dubious websites in hopes of generating revenue at a computer owners expense.
  2. Search results. The prime situation where a web surfer visits sites out of their ordinary traffic patterns and may fall victim to such practices.

Google just took a big bite out of #2. Gmail/Yahoo/Microsoft/AOL have been working hard on #1. That should really help make the web a safer place… until the next menace takes the web by storm.

Junk in Preloads

The Lenovo Blogs are just fantastic examples of corporate blogging. A great example is this rather candid post on Junk in Preloads. There isn’t much that’s really “new” in the post, but the amount of honesty in it is somewhat refreshing. My favorite quote is simply:

Now let’s be honest. We load up this software because we receive money from the vendors to do so. You as a consumer are much more likely to buy the full or upgraded version of a program if you already have it preinstalled. This is worth real money to PC vendors. On the other hand, it works both ways. It is this revenue from the software that helps fuel the PC price war. You all directly benefit from this practice. Without it, PC prices would be more than a few dollars higher.

How many would expect a PC vendor to say something like that in the past? They also seem to be using Flickr.

Dell is now getting in on the action as well with it’s own blog.

Still no true Apple blog. People have become desperate enough for a blogging presence that even Apple’s age-old Hot News has been referred to as a blog a few times. Most recently in regards to Steve Jobs Thoughts on Music. One day…

MacMarionette

This is one of the cooler hardware hacks I’ve run across in the past few weeks: Turning a PowerBook into a Marionette. Unfortunately it’s motion detector specific, so no real chance of that being ported to other devices.

I’m still waiting for someone to take one of those new Lenovo X60 Tablets and make it into a giant Etch A Sketch. Lenovo/IBM’s motion detector (ADXL320 managed through the embedded controller) may be up to the task, but nobody has really done anything with it thus far, other than Knock-Knock by IBM.

Lenovo Starts Recall

Like there was any doubt it would happen, there’s now officially a recall on Lenovo/IBM laptop batteries made by Sony. Not surprising Sony has given up and started a global recall to get the damage over with, and behind them as quick as possible, and minimize potential future incidents/lawsuits.

Like there was anyone who didn’t know weeks ago this was going to happen.

Thinkpad Explodes

Engadget has the scoop on a Thinkpad that blew up at LAX. From the picture I’m virtually positive it’s a T4x/p (T40/p, T41/p, T42/p, T43/p). According to IBM/Lenovo Documentation (T40/p, T41/p, T42/p T43/p) they do ship some with Sony batteries, in addition to Panasonic and Sanyo. I personally have a Sayno in my T43. I believe the T60’s also have Sony in the mix (docs). I’m pretty sure that’s a 6 cell battery in there based on the contour of the rear of the battery (it’s burnt so it’s hard to be 100% positive with that picture quality.

So is it a Sony battery in there? Will there be a recall? My guess is this is going to be a very quick investigation. Considering how many business travelers have Thinkpads, and how many are using the T4x series right now, there are tons of these laptops on planes right now as I post this.

Thinkpad Access Connectons 4.1

Downloading Thinkpad Access Connections 4.1 right now, looking at the changelog, I see one thing in particular I really like:

– (New) Support Firefox internet browser setting in location profile

Yea! Now Firefox can be configured using Access Connections too. This is great because Access Connections is used by many business people on their Thinkpads to manage multiple connection profiles. The ability to adjust Firefox settings quickly like that, brings it that much closer to matching IE for business needs.

On a sidenote, 4.01 causes my CPU to spike every several seconds (not much, but enough to be wasteful). Hopefully 4.1 contains a fix for that issue (no mention of it in the changelog though. I was looking around for a way to report this bug, but haven’t found any place on the IBM/Lenovo website.